Theme Lecture – Engineering’s Role in Policy Decision-Making for Natural hazards and Community Resilience
Engineers have traditionally seen their role as technological solution solvers for issues facing society. But in the realm of natural hazards and their effect on community sustainability and resilience, it is impossible to separate the technological issues from the political and sociological ones. In particular, investment in infrastructure must include an assessment of the risks that a community is willing to assume. These risks are influenced by the realities of political careers and the social well-being of the community.
The goal of sustainable and resilient design encompasses a myriad of interdependent technical issues. Even as complex is the responsibility of meeting these technical challenges, this is not in itself sufficient. The decision to invest resources today in order to create a better future requires buy-in from the political decision-makers, and hence the public at large, with its sociological, cultural and economic concerns. The engineer has foregone both a responsibility and an opportunity if he or she feels the task is completed when the numbers and options are generated. Social psychology has shown that the manner in which problems and solutions are framed holds persuasive sway over public opinion and action. It is therefore incumbent, in order to fulfill the true professional role of the engineer, that we understand the power of framing and presentation, of communication, and receptivity; for only by incorporating these human factors can we help guide society and its decision-makers to a more sustainable and resilient future.